Guest speakers reveal the secret to happiness

and | Senior News Editor and Contributing Writer

The event “What Would You Do if You Only Had One Week to Live?” fostered dialogue among students and faculty on the science of happiness and finding meaning in a time-limited life, April 12.

The discussion was hosted by the Veritas Forum, a non-profit Christian organization working to “seek truth” through questions of philosophy and science. In a lecture attended by 90 people, Lecturer in Philosophy Nic Koziloek moderated a conversation between Tim Bono, Lecturer in Psychological & Brain Sciences, and Lydia Dugdale, Associate Professor of Medicine at Columbia University.

Koziolek began the discussion by elaborating on the title of the lecture, revealing that the true question lies in how one should live their life knowing that time is finite. Bono explained how confronting the scarcity of time is important to recognizing its value. 

“I think that it’s important for us to acknowledge the impermanence of life,” Bono said. “In our own minds, when we become aware of our impermanence, at least on Earth, that changes how we interact with things. It puts things into a proper perspective.”

Koziloek added that happiness is not a goal that can ever be achieved, rather is an activity to be constantly worked on and maintained.

Bono shared that people often, mistakingly, look for a “wow factor” when searching for the secret of happiness, and should instead focus on the accumulation of small, daily intentional behaviors over time that contribute significantly to one’s well being.

Through the lens of her own medical background, Dugdale explained how patients frequently pass away without feeling ready or at peace.

“Why are patients dying so poorly? If you have your whole life to live knowing that you’re going to die, why is it that you are not really facing up to your mortality over the course of your life?” she asked.

Dugdale explained how the answers to these questions lie in the idea that life and death go hand in hand.

“If you want to die well, you have to live well,” she said. “That is, the art of dying and the art of living well are very much intertwined. Let me begin cultivating today the kind of character that I want to be known for when I die.”

Bono also stressed the importance of nurturing relationships and expressing gratitude as a means of happy living, particularly in the age of social media where social comparison exists as one of the biggest detriments to happiness.

The speakers agreed that the cliche of “living everyday like it is the last” is not a sustainable approach to living, as it overlooks the realities of day to day obligations. Instead, if you were to hear you only have a week left to live, you should not have to make any substantial changes to the life you are already living.

First-year James Corbett described the lecture as thought-provoking.

“I liked that Dr. Koziolek said that in the morning, he just drinks his cup of coffee and he sits down and he reads,” Corbett said. “I think that’s crucial to being happy — just sitting and reflecting and doing nothing sometimes…I take multiple sits throughout the day, just doing nothing.”

Junior Solomon Kang hopes to implement a balance between meeting everyday deadlines and investing in important relationships.

“I really like the idea that to die well you have to live well,” Kang said. “It made me reflect on the current status of my relationships with those around me and how I can invest more in those areas.”

In the lecture, Dugdale concluded that living well requires answering questions about one’s mortality.

“Part of living well is attending to these questions while you’re still able, because I’ve certainly cared for patients who were not able to think clearly at the end of their life,” she said. “So it’s just good to wrestle with this stuff and there’s no better place [to do that] than college.”

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